It does’t matter which stage of life you’re in – budget friendly food is always a winner! Unfortunately, so many of us think that healthy cooking and plant-based, vegan meals means expensive and complicated ingredients.
This absolutely doesn’t have to be the case at all – this post is going to show you a bunch of healthy, versatile vegan foods that will be the ingredients to your next home-cooked meal (without breaking the bank!). I promise that if you are stocked up on these foods, you will always have an inexpensive and nourishing meal just around the corner.
Note: I personally choose to exclude gluten from my diet, but have included foods containing gluten in this list, as not everyone has a negative reaction to it.
Potatoes: These are definitely my number one pick for budget friendly food that nourishes body AND soul (because who doesn’t love potato)! White potatoes quite often get a lot of bad press for being high in carbohydrates, but this is actually a good thing – carbohydrates are ESSENTIAL and provide your brain and body with much needed energy to perform basic functions. White and sweet potatoes are both a fantastic source of nutrients, so head to the grocery store and stock up on as many as you can carry! There is plenty that you can do with potatoes – bake them and load them up with mexican-inspired beans and guacamole, chop them up and throw them in a curry or soup, mash them up into fluffy mashed potato, use them as the base of a meal instead of rice or pasta, slice them up into thick wedges and bake them – whatever your heart desires!
- Onions, garlic, ginger and chilis: All of these foods add a big flavour hit to your meals and can mean the difference between a bland meal and a delicious one. Buying these foods loose is much more economic than buying the dried version in the spice isle or buying a jar of paste (which undoubtedly has other, less than desirable ingredients in it…). Sure, they take a little more time to prepare, but the taste (and health!) benefits are worth it.
- Rice: I think rice is probably every single university student’s number one purchase. It’s easy to cook, can be made ahead in big batches, and it’s super cheap. Rice is so versatile and you can literally eat it with anything! Steamed veggies, beans, tofu, curries, stir fries, and even as a gluten-free porridge alternative! I tend to opt for brown rice, but white rice is nice for change as well. Buying in bulk can often save you some dollars as well, so make sure you’re checking the price per gram instead of the overall price, and you’ll save yourself money in the long run.
- Pasta: Basically Italy’s version of rice. Eat it with just about anything.
- Rice noodles: A literal combination of the previous two items (haha), these transparent noodles are equally affordable. Toss them through your stir fries, whip up a pot of laksa and serve with rice vermicelli noodles, or gobble them up with some pad thai.
- Bread: The is nothing more toothsome or delicious than the humble loaf of bread, and luckily in this day and age we are spoilt for choice when it comes to picking a loaf. If you have a local baker and their prices are affordable, try to source your bread from them – it will have less nasties in it and will be a much nicer bread overall. Bread may not be a superfood, but if you pick a less refined (read: not white) loaf then it will provide you with some fibre, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. Plus, its incredibly versatile and and can frozen if need be! Make up a loaded sandwich (curried chickpea smash w/ salad, anyone?), dunk it in soup or stew, toast it, and smear it with just about whatever you like.
- English muffins: Similar to bread in terms of health benefits (i.e not a lot), these little guys will still provide you with fiber, carbs and some vitamins and minerals. Plus, you can cut them in half and make mini pizzas under the grill. What’s not to love?
- Bagels: These tend to come in packs of 4, so they are better eaten sparingly if you want to make the most out of them budget-wise. However, they are loaded with protein and are a great alternative breakfast option. Sweet or savoury – you choose! I loved these when I first went vegan and used to toast blueberry bagels in the sandwich press with some peanut butter and organic jam, and then add sliced banana and squash the two halves together. So. Good.
- Rolled oats: You can’t really go past rolled oats for a healthy breakfast! Eat them hot in winter or as cold ‘overnight oats’ in summer (set in the fridge the night before like an oaty pudding – yum! There are plenty of recipes online for this!). Oats are great in baking and can be turned into flour when blended, or just used whole.
- Tinned legumes/beans: Tinned legumes and beans are one of the cheapest, nutritious and most versatile foods available. They can be found from about 80c a tin and include chickpeas, red kidney beans, cannellini/navy beans, black beans, lentils, and sometimes even borlotti or adzuki beans if they’re available. Packed with protein, fibre, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, beans are a nutrient powerhouse and can virtually be added to any savoury meal. Have a browse on Pinterest, youtube and Google for plenty of inspiration! Just make sure to rinse them well before eating!
- Tinned tomatoes: Tinned tomatoes are tinned beans best friend, but they also form the base of many a saucy dish in our household. Use them in curries, soups, Mexican bean mixes, pasta dishes, rice dishes – the list goes on!
- Tinned coconut milk: Coconut milk forms the basis of a lot of Thai and Malaysian curries. It can also be used in baking.
- Tinned curry pastes: If you can find a good curry paste (we like the Maesri brand – about $1.50 for one tin) then hold onto it for dear life and use it religiously. Good curries are so underrated and so easy to make; just add curry paste, coconut milk, veggies and chickpeas or tofu, then simmer for a while. Voila! Dinner is served.
- Dried lentils: Dried lentils form the basis of the absolute queen of budget meals – dahl! Dahl is a super simple Indian curry that requires cheap ingredients only and requires minimal prep. Again – plenty of recipe available online!
- Flour: There are lots of different flours out there, and probably the cheapest and easiest to work with it wholemeal/whole wheat flour. Pancakes, sweet or savoury muffins, banana bread, whatever you like! If it’s available and also at a reasonable price, try to get some besan flour, which is chickpea flour. It is protein-rich and makes a mean savoury crepe that is perfect for scooping up morsels of curry, using instead of normal wraps, or serving with grilled Mediterranean vegetables. Buckwheat flour is also fantastic and is very nutrient-dense, but is often a bit more expensive, so unless you can affordably source it, don’t worry about it.
- Ground spices: Pick out the most affordable spices that you think you will use in cooking and then go from there. There are plenty of fancy spice mixes available that really aren’t necessary and will just add extra dollars to your grocery bill, so avoid those and stick to the basics. We mostly use dried/ground cumin, coriander, turmeric, smoked paprika, cinnamon, and garam masala (we also use dried garlic and onion powers, for seasoning our baked potato chips).
- Salt and pepper: There isn’t a lot that can’t be jazzed up with a bit of salt and pepper!
- Coconut sugar: This is the only sugar I use in cooking, simply because it is less refined than other sugars and has a higher mineral content. It is slightly more expensive than regular sugar, but you won’t need too much of it, so it should last.
- Instant coffee: Ok, bear with me for a moment. Whilst it’s true that I am a coffee freak and absolutely adore good quality coffee (read: I refuse, and I mean REFUSE to drink instant coffee) I will admit that for some people, it is considered to be plenty good enough. It’s also quite reasonable priced and is much more affordable than buying a coffee from a cafe every day (budget win!). You can also use it in cooking for cakes, muffins, and banana ice-cream. Yay!
- Pitted dates: You’ll find these in the cooking/baking isle of your grocery store. You should know right now that they are NOT like medjool dates, which are fresh, un-pitted, and expensive. Pitted dates are great for chopping and and mixing through porridge for a natural sweetener, or added to loafs/muffins.
- Shredded coconut: Again, this one can be found in the baking isle and is great for jazzing up cereal, porridge, baked goods, and even curries.
- Cocoa powder: If cacao powder isn’t available at a affordable price, go for cocoa powder instead. Cocoa powder is the more processed, heat-treated version of cacao powder and is used in baking. However, you can still use it in banana smoothies and get some nutritional benefits from it.
- Peanut butter*: This can get a little expensive if you consume it at the same rate as my boyfriend, but if you use it a little sparingly, it works out in the long run. Use it in porridge/overnight oats, baking, savoury dishes, or spread over toast or rice cakes.
- Hummus: Hummus is a delicious chickpea spread found in the cold section of the supermarket. You can buy kilo tubs of the stuff – which is great, when you eat as much of it as we do! Slather it on rice cakes, dollop it on grilled veggies, dip carrot and celery into it; however you like.
- Soy milk: Thanks to a rise in veganism, soy milk is now readily available and has just as much variety as regular dairy milk. It’s great for cooking/baking, and can be bought for as little as a dollar per litre.
- Plain rice cakes: You can basically put whatever you like on these! Sweet or savoury, both work with plain rice cakes. They make a perfect snack!
- Frozen spinach: Frozen spinach is crazy cheap and is great for adding to savoury dishes if you’re struggling to add more greens to your diet.
- Frozen peas: see above. Peas for everyone!
- Lastly – SEASONAL PRODUCE: this means and fruits and vegetables that are in season and cheap. Plenty of grocery stores will sell the same produce all year round, but that doesn’t mean that it grows easily all year round – it just means they import it and charge a higher price when it is out of season. Prices are lowest when the fruit/vegetable is in its natural season and grows easily. The most affordable generally tend to be bananas, apples, oranges, lemons, lettuces, kale, zucchini, carrots, and pumpkin. Keep an eye on prices and know when certain produce goes in and out of season to avoid paying excessive amounts.
Do you have any budget friendly favourites that you’d like to share? Was this list helpful? Let me know in the comments below!